As we look forward to
planning future political actions in opposition to free trade and globalization,
unions in English Canada can learn much from the People’s Summit and the anti-FTAA
protests held in Quebec City in April.
It is noteworthy that such
a massive anti free trade demonstration would take place in Quebec, where none
of the major political parties opposes free trade. No small part of the success
of the April 21 protest was due to the efforts of the Quebec unions, whose
members participated in the tens of thousands. The fact that such a broad
spectrum of members participated in this protest should encourage the rest of
the labour movement to consider the organization of similar mass rallies in the
A key element to the
success of the demonstration, and to the Labour forum held as part of the
People’s Summit, was the cooperation of all of the major union centrals. The
perennial rocky relations between the FTQ, CSN, and CSD did not stop them from
jointly planning and participating in these activities. This should act as an
inspiration to everyone in English Canada, within the CLC, and within the CAW,
AUPE, and other suspended or unaffiliated unions, to recognize that the need to
unite and jointly cooperate in the struggle against corporate globalization must
supercede our other political differences and institutional rivalries.
The Labour movement must
also learn from the acts of courage and solidarity that were displayed by the
thousands of non violent protesters that maintained a continuous presence at
"the wall" which enclosed the official summit.
There has been much
discussion about the route of the "peaceful march" which led protesters to a
park several kilometers from the wall. Labour, and the other groups which
organized the massive march, had been clear to the participants that the route
would be organized to ensure the safety of all. As such, this protest was open
to all, including families with young children and persons who were not able or
willing to risk violence or tear gas and rubber bullets. Once organized on this
basis it was impossible to change the route in any way that may have betrayed
this commitment of personal security.
The leadership of the
Quebec labour movement and the other groups that organized the march recognized
the need for this type of "peaceful," inclusive protest activity, which can
appeal to all union members and the population at large. Demonstrations are not
an end in themselves, but rather a means, or a reason to engage the membership
in political discussion. In the weeks preceding the demonstration many of the
Quebec unions did a spectacular job of engaging members in political discussion
and education around free trade. Asking members to participate in activities
which may be hazardous to their health inevitably results in the political
discussion being eclipsed by a debate on tactics. This mass demonstration was
organized so that all of the members were comfortable bringing their families
and friends. As a result over 60,000 workers and citizens marched together in
the largest show of opposition to free trade ever held in Canada.
Combative situations such
as Quebec City, which involve a large, intimidating police presence, also
require us to consider adding other forms of protest activities to that of the
mass march. We need to find the means of openly acting in solidarity with the
students and youth who participate in non violent protest actions. When state
leaders gather to enshrine corporate rights within international agreements it
is inevitable there will be a show of state repression which generates a
vigourous protest. The labour movement must be clear which side it is on.
That doesn’t mean sending
unprepared union members up to police lines to be incapacitated by gas and
pepper spray. In Quebec City it was very clear that many of the youthful
demonstrators at the wall were better trained and equipped than the union
activists that briefly appeared to show solidarity before most were driven away
by gas. It will mean that labour must put greater emphasis on non violent civil
disobedience training. It means that union leaders should openly and repeatedly
condemn all forms of state violence. It requires that union resources are
directed to provide medical and legal support for those that are injured and
arrested. It also means that there must be an open discussion of the
relationship between the labour movement and other non labour groups who
practice more combative forms of non violent protest.
Faced with scabs, court
injunctions against picketing, and plant closures, many Canadian unions have
frequently found it necessary to engage in all sorts of different types of non
violent acts of civil disobedience including plant occupations and blocking
roads and bridges. Our movement wasn’t built only on picket lines, it was built
on the streets. Labour should not feel uncomfortable when others use similar
protest tactics to support our mutual goals.
Despite some differences
over tactics and strategy the events in Quebec City should serve to promote
greater cooperation between labour and other parts of the movement against
globalization. The cooperation within labour, and between labour and the other
organizations in organizing the People’s Summit, bodes well for the future.
Hundreds of labour delegates to the People’s Summit conducted a march to the
wall on Friday as a sign of solidarity with the students and youth The fact that
leaders of the CLC registered as an affinity group and participated at a Spokes
council during the Quebec protest indicated a willingness to establish a
dialogue with other parts of the greater movement.
is a need for a thorough discussion of the future forms of protest and relations
between the organizations and constituencies that make up the anti-globalization
movement. Labour should be part of these discussions and should participate in a
spirit of comradeship and solidarity. Quebec City demonstrated once again that
we have much to contribute, and much to learn.